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International expert panel to advise NHS on patient safety

Move prompted by last month’s Francis report into Mid-Staffs failings

Caroline White

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

An international panel of experts has been set up to advise the NHS on patient safety, following last month’s report into widespread failings at Mid-Staffordshire Hospitals.

The National Advisory Group on the Safety of Patients in England will be chaired by Professor Donald Berwick, a renowned expert in the field and President Emeritus and Senior Fellow at the US Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

Professor Berwick has already advised NHS Scotland on the development of its first national patient safety approach.

The advisory group comprises a team of 14 other US and UK leaders in all aspects of the culture and processes of minimising patient harm, from healthcare management and nursing, to sociology and psychology.

It will make recommendations on how to quickly and efficiently move to a whole-system approach to make “zero-harm” a reality across the NHS, drawing on the best available scientific evidence from across the NHS and other industries and health services around the world.

Prime Minster David Cameron asked Professor Berwick to set up the advisory group following last month’s final report into the devastating breakdown of care at Mid-Staffordshire Hospitals.

In 2010 and 2011 Professor Berwick served as President Obama’s appointee to head the US Medicare and Medicaid programs, prior to which he was Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Professor Berwick commented: “Assuring patient safety and high quality care is never automatic. It requires the constant attention of leaders and continual support to the workforce. I have read, and been deeply affected by, the harrowing personal stories of individuals and families who were so badly injured when this commitment flagged at Mid-Staffordshire Hospitals.”

He continued: “Our group will do whatever it can to recommend how the NHS in England take serious and profound action, learning from this tragedy to make patient care and treatment as safe as it can possibly be, and ever safer. Indeed, there is no reason why English healthcare cannot aspire to be and become the safest health care in the world.

But he said that optimising patient safety at all times posed a “major challenge” for any health care system. “It involves leadership, training, staff culture, organisational structures, systems and processes, data capture and analysis, regulation, deep patient and family involvement, and much more,” he said.

“It is important to remember that England is in many ways an international exemplar in patient safety, but Mid-Staffordshire shows us that there is still a great deal of work to do. I am confident we will be able to set out clear, practical advice and leave a legacy of safer care in the NHS.”

The Group will report to the NHS Commissioning Board and the Department of Health at the end of July this year.

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